Director/Screenplay/Music – David A. Cross, Visual Effects – Dan Poole & Eric Supensky, Makeup Effects – Jennifer Smith, Production Design – Jason Contino, David A. Cross & Dan Poole. Production Company – All American Pictures
Jennifer Servary (Elizabeth Dean), Jillian Byrnes (Laura Kove), Marianne Hayden (Nikki Brandt), Kevin Floyd (Jack Parker)
Graphic designer Laura Kove has lived inside her apartment for one year, suffering from agoraphobia so badly that she never goes out of doors anymore. She starts to see sinister figures and realises that her apartment is haunted. In desperation, she calls Elizabeth Dean, a webcam stripper who runs a website that claims to set up cameras that can detect ghosts. Laura’s best friend Nikki begs Elizabeth to investigate, not sure if Laura is having a breakdown. Elizabeth digs into the background, discovering that Laura was targeted by the serial killer Malcolm Dixon and how she and Nikki took things into their own hands and killed him. She realises that Malcolm’s ghost has now returned to terrorise Laura.
Ghostwatcher was a low-budget horror film that I picked up in the bargain bin. I had never heard it mentioned anywhere or of any of the names of the credits. That always makes for an intrepid punt into unknown waters. I will review anything in search of the next great unseen or unclaimed masterpiece out there. That said, there is more often than not good reason why these films have no profile.
In doing some reading on the background of Ghostwatcher and its principal creative force David A. Cross, I came across an interesting series of discussions on the IMDB message boards. It would be fair to say that Ghostwatcher has attracted a reasonable amount of negative criticism. David A. Cross appears to have gone onto the message boards under different log-ins and attempted to defend the film against its naysayers. This has only acted as bait to various trolls who have taken the opportunity to slag Cross for making what they consider one of the worst films ever.
I must leap to David A. Cross’s defence here. Certainly, I don’t think that Ghostwatcher is a particularly great film but it is not the worst thing ever committed to celluloid – it shows directorial promise and I would be interested to see what Cross goes onto make next or is capable of with a better budget. Ghostwatcher is certainly made to a professional level when it comes to the lighting, camera set-ups and acting – a slight amateurism occasionally shows through but for the most part it holds up well. Those who call Ghostwatcher celluloid dreck have clearly not seen enough bad movies. Indeed, if any of these critics want to contact me, I will happily forward them for comparison copies of some of the films I am sent on a regular basis that give the appearance of being made by amateurs with all the production value of home movies.
Ghostwatcher has a more interesting set-up than we usually get in horror films – an agoraphobic hides in her apartment and never goes out, only to discover that the apartment is haunted. David Cross has at least made an effort to do something different here. He certainly creates a spooky atmosphere during the early scenes – with Jillian Byrnes hiding under the table in the dark and a pair of green glowing eyes suddenly appearing beside her; a shape coming towards her as she cowers that is abruptly gone after a flash of lightning illuminates the room. The two lead women in the film, the top-billed Jillian Byrnes and the second-billed Jennifer Servary who in fact gets the bulk of the screen time, both give strong and intelligent performances and could easily go on to mainstream work.
On the other hand, there are points where Ghostwatcher definitely does not work. There are some decidedly incredulous plot devices. The worst of these is the character of Elizabeth (Jennifer Servary), an internet stripper who, because she also conducts a scam selling webcams that can supposedly record ghosts, is persuaded into investigating the murders. If there are any professions other than a webcam stripper that would seem the least likely background for a paranormal investigator, then I would be interested to know. Equally incredulous is the scene, borrowed from the similar one in Sneakers (1992), where Jennifer Servary traces the path of Jillian Byrnes’s abduction by getting her to recount the noises she heard while blindfolded one year ago in order to find the location of the barn.
While Cross creates some spooky scenes in the apartment, less interesting are the ones where Jennifer Servary and Marianne Hayden are pursued through the farmhouse by blue-skinned zombies – mostly the scenes seem like cheaply filmed extras stumbling through an old house and no more than that. Despite a good set-up, good performances and a worthy first act, Ghostwatcher pans out routinely with everything dissolving from a potentially eerie scare show to a dull paranormal investigation. Moreover, the explanatory rationale and backstory about what happened with the serial killer/rapist is never particularly clear.
David A. Cross returned to make Ghostwatcher 2 (2005) also featuring Jillian Byrnes. Cross subsequently went onto make the horror film Respire (2009) and the thriller The Blinds (2011).